What song do you sing? (Developing Your Writing Voice)

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It’s that nebulous thing other writers tell you to do:

“Find your voice”
“Make your writing your own
“Claim your writing and make it yours

But what exactly is a writing voice? And how do you simply pick it up?

Your writing voice is the unique language that makes your writing yours. It’s what sets your zombie story or memoir or romance novel apart from all the others. It’s the humor/wit/sarcasm/intellect that defines you as a writer. If you’ve ever read something by Toni Morrison or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, you know how alluring a writer’s voice can be. If you’ve ever read David Sedaris or Tina Fey, you understand how a writer’s voice can be laugh-out-loud funny.

Essentially: Your voice is the tone, personality, and perspective that shines through in your writing. Just like a director can put his or her signature twist on a movie’s screenplay, so too can you leave a thumbprint of your personality in your writing.

So, here’s the big question: How do you develop your writing voice?

1. With time and patience

I know you don’t want to hear this, but developing your unique writing style takes time, and not every writer figures it out right away. You might write a full-length novel (or several!) before settling into your writing voice.

Think of it as a journey. Just like you grow and change as a human being throughout your life, so too will your writing voice evolve.

2. By being honest with yourself

If you’re not funny in real life, don’t force yourself to be a humorous writer (that’s not to say you can’t have funny scenes, just don’t make it your overarching style). If you prefer clipped action scenes over flowery pose, don’t make yourself write extended metaphors and lyrical narrative.

You do you. 

 Cher doing Cher.

Cher doing Cher.

If you’re honest about what you enjoy reading and writing (the two usually coincide), your voice will come across as authentic, instead of canned.

3. Through reflection, worksheets, and free writing

You might have noticed I’m big on reflection time. It’s essential to clear your head, find a quiet spot, and give yourself limitless time to mull over your writing (or in this case, your writing voice). Think about the message you want to send in your writing, and your writing’s purpose. How do you want to connect with your readers? How do you want them to feel? Will a sparse writing style, sprinkled with wry humor do the trick?

During your reflection time, you can also utilize worksheets (we’ve developed a whole series of activities and worksheets; get in touch if you want to get your paws on some!) or other guides to ask yourself crucial questions and explore your writing voice in a deeper way.

In addition to your reflection time, be sure to spend time every day (even five or ten minutes will do) free writing. Pick a topic, or look up a writing prompt, and put your pen to paper. Don’t dwell on anything for long; simply see what comes out. This stream-of-consciousness writing reveals how you like to write when you’re completely uninhibited—and that can point to your preferred writing voice.

4. By refusing to please the crowd

The most memorable writing voices are not necessarily loved by everyone. They stand out because they’re distinct and unafraid to alienate a certain audience. Not everyone enjoys the clipped, spare writing of Hemingway or the rambling, metaphor-laden style of Salman Rushdie, but they’re both titans in the writing world and have created fiercely loyal followings.

Let’s be real: It’s impossible to write something everyone will enjoy. Even the most play-it-safe sitcom will have critics. So, why not go for it? Why not add some color to your writing voice, instead of settling for shades of beige?

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5. By going to writing groups

If you don’t regularly hang out with other writers, you’ll be surprised by how much you can learn from the writing-inclined crowd. Fellow writers love to geek out about NaNoWriMo, character development, and story arcs. Just being around other writers and talking shop can be energizing and creativity-inducing.

Try joining a local critique group (or several—you can always drop the ones that don’t suit your style) and putting your writing out in the world. I know that can sound scary (and it’s never fun to have your hard work picked apart), but it is WORTH IT.

The best writing critique groups are the ones that are honest. They’re unafraid to tell you what doesn’t work in your writing and will point out ways to make it better. Frankly, it’s best to avoid writing groups that are all about back-patting and compliments. You can always turn to your mother or your best friend for that.

Not sure where to start seeking writing groups? Meetup.com or LinkedIn (search for local writing groups) are good places to start.

 

You have a unique writing voice; it’s time to let it loose!

I want to hear your voice sing across the page. I want your young adult prom drama to stand apart from all the other ones that have come before it. Your voice has power. Unleash it!